Writers at Work: Wait for It

Hi everyone,

Sandy Asher and I are bringing you another series of WRITERS AT WORK this month, on Tuesdays as always. We’re calling this one “Wait for It,” as we reflect on those times in our own careers when unsold work from the past has eventually found its way into print. We know that many of you have had the same experiences and hope you’ll send them to Sandy or me by e-mail so we can include them in the last (fifth) Tuesday in October. Thanks and welcome! For anyone interested in reviewing our previous fifteen series of WRITER AT WORK, here’s the link. http://usawrites4kids.blogspot.com

Topic 16: Wait for It
October 3, 2017
Part 1 — Sandy


David, you’ve inspired this exchange of thoughts with your recent comment about finding an old manuscript in your files that seemed to be asking you to come back and work on it. Thank you!

That reunion with an old manuscript really struck a chord. It’s something that’s happened to me many times over the years. I’ll bet it happens to most writers, at least now and then. And yet we hardly ever hear it mentioned in advice articles or courses or workshops. Sure, we’re told to put a new manuscript away for a few days or weeks so we can revise it with fresh eyes and renewed energy. But what about manuscripts that have been lying around for years?

They don’t get enough respect!

In fact, they’re kind of a secret, aren’t they? Maybe we’re not comfortable admitting there are incomplete or unsuccessful manuscripts languishing on the back burner — or off the stove altogether?

Well, let’s shout it out here: I don’t throw anything away! Not even if it seems hopeless and I think I never want to look at the useless thing again, let alone spend another minute of my precious writing time wrestling with it. I hang onto it, anyway.

One just never knows when that idea’s time may come. Circumstances change. Markets change. Editors change. But perhaps most importantly, WE change. Sometimes we just have to live a little bit more, learn a little bit more, grow a little bit older and wiser — or do a whole lot of that stuff — to solve the puzzle certain pieces present.

Some ideas simply knock on our door too soon, but they’ll wait until we’re ready to answer. The very first of my successful file-digging finds is probably something of a record holder. It was a story I wrote for a college creative writing course. It earned a respectable grade at that time, but it wasn’t until 18 years later that I hauled it out, revised it, and sold it. Yes, you read that right: 18 years!

Fresh out of college, I tried sending it off to what I thought were appropriate publications, but it never found a home. No doubt, that’s because I was aiming at literary journals. I just didn’t know enough to understand what I’d actually written, or even what kind of writer I was meant to be — a children’s author. After the story collected a depressing number of rejections, it went into my file cabinet and there it stayed, abandoned and, eventually, forgotten.

Some years later, I enrolled in elementary education classes at Drury College (now Drury University) where my husband was teaching. (I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, I just didn’t know I was supposed to be writing for them!) One required class changed everything: Methods of Teaching Children’s Literature. It was there that I first read young adult novels. Suddenly, I felt as if I’d been wandering all my life and had finally found home. My whole approach to my work — and its marketing potential — shifted.

Not long after that epiphany, I read about an educational publisher looking for stories about teenaged protagonists for a graded reading series. I found my old college story, reread it with new perspective, and sent off the requested query. There was interest. BUT. There were also a few requirements for this series: I had to count not only word length, but average number of syllables, and I had to work in six new vocabulary words twice each. Considerable revision was in order!

The ensuing labor only made the story better. After it was accepted, I enjoyed a long, productive, and profitable relationship with that publisher. Plus, with each story needing to comply with stringent length, reading difficulty, and vocabulary requirements, I honed my revision skills. Big bonus!

So, in 18 years, my focus changed, and my writing improved. I also learned something about patience. Sometimes an idea just has to wait for its time to come.

And, now, David, your time has come!